Ascetism, Angels, and Visions

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Col. 2:18).

- Colossians 2:18

God reveals Himself in the created order, so even unregenerate people know He is separate and sovereign as well as present in and interactive with His creation (Rom. 1:18–32). Yet since we are born fallen (5:12–21), our minds distort the Lord’s revelation of Himself. Eastern religions stress a non-biblical immanence that teaches God is so wrapped up in His creation that He is absorbed into it. They affirm monism — all is part and parcel of the divine. Other religions, like Islam, stress a non-biblical transcendence wherein the Lord is so far removed from His creation that He is practically unknowable. Those holding this view often promote devotion to intermediary beings who can put in a good word with the inaccessible God for them. For instance, though official Roman Catholic teaching makes all sorts of qualifications about what happens in the veneration of saints, it is still true that on a popular level, veneration of the church triumphant is often nothing but idolatry.

Ancient Colossae had its share of those who looked to intermediary beings such as angels for help, and some of these people claimed to be Christian though they attempted to lead the church in Colossae astray. Their strange mixture of Christian teaching, pagan ideas, and Jewish ritual piety (Col. 2:16–17) also included the “worship of angels,” as we see in today’s passage. Worst of all, these false teachers looked down on those who did not add laws and angel worship to faith in the Savior, being puffed up with pride in their own pious activities (v. 18). This, of course, is the common condition of those who view God’s law as an end in itself or who follow manmade rules that supposedly promote true religion. The flesh, or fallen nature, preferring to one-up others instead of serve them, clings to rules that, when followed, make their adherents look holy on the outside even as the inside remains corrupt. Instead of promoting true goodness, however, such things only exacerbate sin, strengthening desires that go against the Lord’s true will (Matt. 23; Rom. 7:7–12).

Instead of following Christ’s command for His disciples to love one another, these teachers gloried also in their “visions” as the mark of true godliness (Col. 2:18). Along with angel worship and asceticism, such things plainly went against godly thinking, for they denied that Jesus alone is sufficient for true piety (vv. 1–15).

Coram Deo

While it is easy to see that heretics are sinning when they look down in judgment on others, it is more difficult to root out that same sin in ourselves, for the basis of our judgment of others may be something good and true. For example, we may think we are better than other Christians in God’s eyes because we understand the doctrines of grace and other elements of Reformed theology. Let such an attitude never be true of us.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 29:23
Jonah 3–4
Matthew 9:14–17
Galatians 5:1–15

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